Separating the facts from fiction about using dagga

According to research done in 2007, cannabis is the most common illicit substance used in South Africa, with particularly high use among the youth.

Self-reported cannabis use was 5 – 10% among adolescents and 2% among adults, higher among men than women, higher in urban than rural areas, higher in the urban provinces of Western Cape and Gauteng than the other provinces and higher among coloureds and whites than other racial groups.

Myth 1. Criminalizing marijuana protects kids

Fact: A US government survey done about a decade ago showed that more teens were smoking pot than cigarettes. At the time an expert said that teenagers viewed marijuana as less dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol.

Myth 2. It is in line with the Constitution to ban marijuana in SA

Fact: In 2017 the Western Cape High Court declared certain sections of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act and the Medicines Act inconsistent and invalid with the Constitution.

According to the landmark ruling it was an infringement to ban the use of marijuana by adults in private homes. The court ruled that Parliament must change sections of the Drug Trafficking Act, as well as the Medicines Control Act.

On 18 September 2018 the Constitutional Court ruled that it is legal for South Africans to cultivate and consume dagga for personal use. In a unanimous judgment, the highest court in the land decriminalised the private use of dagga.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo upheld the Western Cape High Court’s ruling that marijuana can be used at home and ruled that Parliament must change its Drug Trafficking and Medicines Control Acts.

Myth 3. Marijuana is a gateway drug

Fact: The majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, so called harder substances. An alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis is that people who are more vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as tobacco or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs.

A report by the Institute of Medicine found “no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs”.

Myth 4. Dagga is a dangerous drug

Fact: Studies continue to find that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and much less dangerous than hard drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Myth 5. Smoking marijuana causes cancer

Fact: Both marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke, contain carcinogens. However, research shows that marijuana smokers generally smoke much less pot than the cigarettes smoked by tobacco users, but most likely not enough to cause cancer. A 2006 UCLA study concluded that even heavy marijuana use does not lead to lung cancer. The study suggests that marijuana can inhibit the growth of tumours. Smoking is not the only way to consume marijuana. The risks are linked to smoking.

Myth 6. Dagga leads to crime

Fact: In South Africa cannabis is often associated with crime. Use of the plant is higher among offenders than nonoffenders, but marijuana does not cause criminal behaviour. In fact it could be the other way round – that criminals are more likely to use drugs. Dagga, unlike alcohol, generally does not make people aggressive, which makes it difficult to link it to violent crime.

New research has shown that the introduction of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) in US states bordering Mexico has resulted in a decrease in violent crime in those states.

Myth 7. Cannabis is totally safe to use

Fact: As with smoking tobacco, smoking too much marijuana can be detrimental to your health as the two are chemically similar causing respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis. These risks are linked to smoking pot, which is only one way of using marijuana. Driving while under the influence of marijuana can cause accidents, but the risk is lower than driving under the influence of alcohol.


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